Food & Drink

The Grapevine: Paderewski land still producing

Paso Robles has a long connection with Polish politician and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski. In the early 20th century, Paderewski bought 2,000 acres west of town, where he later planted zinfandel and petite sirah. When Prohibition ended, he even produced some wine. The city still celebrates his musical legacy with the annual Paderewski Festival.

The wine part of the connection continues today with Epoch Estate Wines, which will release its first wines in March. The Paderewski property changed hands several times over the years and was bought in 2004 by Bill and Liz Armstrong, who live in Denver. Planting at the 65-acre vineyard was started in 2005; the grapes are mostly Rhones, along with tempranillo and zinfandel.

“I think it’s one of the best viticultural sites that I’ve seen in California,” says winemaker David Jelinek, who has worked at Harlan Estate, Groth Vineyards and Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the Napa Valley as well as Summerwood Winery in Paso Robles. The consulting winemaker is Justin Smith of Saxum, who also buys a little fruit from Epoch, and the wines are made at Denner Vineyards, where Epoch has its own equipment.

In 2006, the Armstrongs also bought some rocky land next door to Booker Vineyards, where they planted roughly 30 acres in 2008. The vineyard is called Catapult, and the first grapes will be harvested this fall.

The Paderewski Vineyard is very steep in places, and much of the site has a vertical, uplifted soil pattern, which allows the vine roots to more easily penetrate between soil layers. Catapult, on the other hand, isn’t as steep, but it’s rocky and rolling, with a variety of exposures.

The first wines are three $60 Rhone-style red blends with proprietary names. They will be sold mostly through a mailing list. To sign up, go to 2007 Philosophee, a

grenache-mourvedre-syrah blend, is quite ripe, with plump blackberry, spice and fine tannins. The 2007 Ingenuitee—mostly grenache and syrah, with a little petite sirah and tiny amounts of mourvedre and zinfandel — is dark, dense and powerful, with firmer tannins. And the 2007 Authenticitee, which is dominated by syrah, is dense and glass-coating, with very ripe berry fruit and firm structure.

There will also be a 2007 tempranillo, which hasn’t been bottled yet. The wine, Jelinek says, will be 100 percent tempranillo, a departure from Epoch’s usual blending concept. He calls tempranillo the “Kobe Bryant of grapes,” because it’s “a strong performer, but it doesn’t play well with others.” A barrel sample of the wine was inky, wild and a little earthy, with roasted black fruit flavors and firm tannins.

Jelinek acknowledges that the Epoch wines are big and ripe, but he says he wants them to have “precision” and avoid flabbiness. He’s certainly off to a good start, and barrel samples from the 2008 vintage show tremendous potential and even a bit more complexity.